Ironman Arizona 2019 Race Report
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
After having done three Ironmans with LOTS of climbing on the bike, I was excited for Arizona, which by comparison has a very flat bike course. I was pretty sure I could at least get some kind of PR with this type of course. This would also be a vacation for us, as we planed our trip to allow a couple extra days after the race to visit the Phoenix area, without the stress of an imminent race.
My wife and I flew out of Seattle on Thursday night and got to Phoenix very late that night. On Friday, we went to Tempe Beach park so I could get checked in, and then spent part of the afternoon exploring the Phoenix Botanical Gardens. For dinner we went to one of our favorite restaurants that doesn't have a location in Seattle: The Cracker Barrel.
On Saturday we went back to Tempe Beach Park for the practice swim. The race officials set up a ~700m loop at the swim start location so that athletes could test the water before the race (which is very helpful, as there's no swim warm-up available on race morning). The water was quite cold (at least for what I'm used too), and very murky (you can't see more than a foot in front of you). It took me a few hundred yards to get into a rhythm, mostly due to the cold. I then got my bike and gear bags checked in and then we went back to our hotel room to relax for the rest of the afternoon. We went to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner (another restaurant with no location in Seattle), as it's a good place to get a reasonably healthy and light dinner the night before the race. We went to bed early to try to get in as much sleep as we could before 4am.
4am rolled around quickly (like it always does) and we got up and started getting ready. This time it wasn't just me getting prepared for the day, my wife would be spending the whole day downtown, so she had to get some things ready too. We headed out around 4:30am and drove to the parking garage. It's very nice to basically have a guaranteed spot with such a big parking garage, but that also meant the line to get in was long. We had to wait almost 30 minutes in line just to get in the garage. Once we got parked, I went into the transition area to pump my tires and fill my bottles. After my bike was ready, I left the transition area to find my wife.... but she was nowhere to be found. I then realized that the location I told her to wait for me was inside the transition area (which she can't access). I began frantically looking for her (she had my wetsuit and goggles) and was almost ready to go have the announcers call her name, but I eventually found her. It was a bit stressful, but I managed to get my wetsuit on and get in line with just a few minutes to spare.
The swim started much smoother than I anticipated. Though the water was cold and murky, I was able to jump right in and get into a rhythm almost immediately. It seems the practice swim the previous day had helped. One nice thing about the swim course here is that you can do quite a bit of sighting just by breathing on your right side, as the shore is always on that side and is never far away. I swam smooth and fast for a while, but somewhere past the turnaround started feeling nauseous. I continued swimming hoping it would pass. After a while I had to pull off to the side and throw up. This happened 3 more times before I finally finished the swim. Not sure exactly the reason for this, though almost the same thing happened last year at Whistler. I knew my time was bad, but wasn't sure exactly what it was until I had finished the race.
T1 at Arizona involves a long run to the actual transition area. Fortunately, the race organizers went to the trouble of laying down carpet so you don't have to run on the bare concrete. Because my swim was so slow, I was now behind a lot of slower athletes, and had to pass quite a few people on the 1/4 mile run to transition. Don't expect a fast T1 here folks.
Finally I was on the bike! This is where I could make up some serious time. I was still behind a lot of slower athletes and would spend almost the entire bike passing people. (In total I would pass 1,906 people on the bike). The route takes a few turns before you get out to Beeline Highway. Other than that it's pretty flat and straightforward. The roads are pretty decent, a few rough spots, but nothing serious or dangerous by any means. Once you get out to Beeline Highway, the winds pick up and you have a headwind all the way out to the turnaround. About halfway out on my first lap, the pro women came past me on their second lap, and I was matching their speed for quite a while. Aerodynamics is definitely important on this course because of the winds. Despite this, I was surprised to see quite a few athletes wearing baggy jerseys and windbreakers on the bike. Once I passed the far turnaround, I could instantly feel the tailwind assisting me. The way back into town is MUCH faster, cause you have a tailwind and a gradual descent. Things slow down a little bit once you get off the Beeline. Because I spend so much time in the aero position on a course like this, my back and neck started aching on the third lap. The only time I got out of aero was on those few turns going in and out of town. It was only a few seconds of relief, but it was definitely a welcome break. I ended up fading a little in the third lap, I think because I may not have gotten quite enough nutrition. (After the race there was more nutrition left in my bottle than I thought there would be.) My average speed went from 22.2mph to a (still pretty good) 21.7mph.
Coming into T2 is always a good feeling. It feels great to get off the bike and to know that you've only got one more event to go. I Made my way through T2 quickly, and grabbed some water before heading out on the run.
The run course is very flat with a few minor hills where the path meanders back and forth along the bank of the lake. It doesn't have a lot of shade, but I honestly didn't find that to be an issue. It never got hot enough to really need shade. I kept the pace conservative for the first 3 miles or so to ease the transition from biking to running. I picked up the pace a little bit after that, but the fatigue continued to build and eventually I took a few walking breaks. It got dark about halfway through my second lap (this is a first for me, all of my races thus far have been in summer, and it stayed light until well after I finished). When I had about 6 miles left, I got a second wind and was able to pick up my pace once again. I only stopped at aid stations, and then began skipping those entirely the closer I got to the end. I was about half a mile away when I could hear the voice of Mike Reilly and the cheering coming from the finish line. I pushed harder knowing I was almost done, the pain in my legs pushed to the back of my mind. I rounded the final bend, ran through the finisher's chute and crossed the line! 140.6 miles done! This last bit of the race is always a highlight of an Ironman. The elation you feel knowing you're done, combined with the sense of accomplishment, and the crowds cheering you on always makes it special.
Total time: 11:24:00
I beat my previous personal record by 20 minutes, so definitely a great race overall. I am definitely disappointed about the swim, and I'll need to figure out what happened. Despite the winds and the cold, murky water, I thoroughly enjoyed this course and wouldn’t hesitate to do this race again.
After the race, my wife helped me back to the car and we went back to the hotel. We ordered pizza, breadsticks, and fries and I began replenishing all those spent calories. The next day, we went to Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home), and watched the Mister Rogers movie at the theater. On Tuesday we went to the zoo and spent some time relaxing. We flew home on Wednesday. It was nice getting some extra time to tour the Phoenix area, and we enjoyed our time in the desert.